Irritable Bowel Syndrome
What is irritable bowel syndrome?
IBS affects the lower abdominal area, and it produces pain, discomfort, bloating, and diarrhea or constipation without any other known disorder affecting the body. A doctor may diagnose a patient with IBS if he can’t find anything else that could be causing those symptoms in the digestive system.
Patients who have these symptoms for more than three days at a time while experiencing pain revolves around defecation may have IBS. Defecation may improve a person’s pain, and IBS may change the type and frequency of a patient’s stool.
What causes IBS?
Current medical science cannot point to a singular cause for IBS. However, several factors may bring on IBS or make symptoms worse. Doctors may investigate many possible causes, but the underlying issue comes from a change in the immune system. That’s because IBS happens due to chronic inflammation in the intestines. Inflammation is the body’s natural way to respond to something that sets off the immune system. Researchers note that there is some connection between how the brain reacts to conditions happening in the intestines with regards to IBS.
Other factors may contribute to IBS including diet, hypersensitivity, stress, an infection, gut flora (micro-organisms that live naturally in people’s intestines) or food allergies. More and more medical studies have narrowed the focus of what causes IBS to a combination of changes in the gut flora, something happening after an infection, constant low-grade inflammation and an overgrowth of certain gut flora in the small intestines. Further studies along these lines may find a cause, and therefore a detailed treatment, for IBS.
How do doctors treat IBS?
Functional medicine doctors may recommend a diet that alters a patient’s diet, encourages the right kind of gut flora to grow, reduces inflammation, gets rid of any infections, and reduces stress.
More than 70 percent of IBS patients describe worsening pain, bloating and discomfort after meals. Therefore, many doctors take a dietary approach to solving IBS. Patients may try an elimination diet wherein people stop eating one food at a time to see what happens. Patients may consider removing wheat, corn, dairy, eggs, coffee, tea and citrus from their diets to see if symptoms improve. For someone with food allergies or sensitivities, an elimination diet is the only structured way to determine what foods may cause problems in the intestines.
Too much sugar in someone’s diet points to one common trigger of IBS. One suggestion for doctors is to have their IBS patients try a 14-day diet that restricts or eliminates fructose, lactose and sorbitol. Fructose occurs naturally in fruits, but it’s also a component of high-fructose corn syrup, a common sweetener used by manufacturers in processed foods. Lactose is a form of sugar found in milk. Sorbitol is a sweetener commonly found in chewing gum.
Another factor to consider is soluble fiber. Although eating fiber in general helps the digestive system, insoluble fiber from corn and wheat may worsen symptoms of IBS. Instead, doctors can recommend getting fiber from other sources.
Supplements, such as probiotics, also come into play for treating IBS. Doctors might suggest patients take certain probiotics, or capsules that contain micro-organisms that promote healthy gut flora, as a way to bring intestinal gut flora back into balance. Sugar tends to cause unhealthy gut flora to grow, thereby causing an immune reaction that leads to inflammation. Bringing the gut flora into balance with the right micro-organisms can reduce the symptoms of IBS.
The first step for patients managing IBS is to listen to their body. People should notice any changes in their stool or any changes in their abdomen at certain times or after eating certain foods. Doctors should suggest keeping a diary of what people eat and when to gradually eliminate foods from someone’s diet. Patients might try to eat healthier with a balanced diet while eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Reducing intake of sugary foods is a good idea to see what happens.
If nothing changes or symptoms get worse during any course of treatment, patients should see their doctor for an official diagnosis. After going through a doctor’s treatment plan without noticing any difference in the symptoms, the physician may try to find another cause of the abdominal pain.
Everyday Health, “Irritable Bowel Syndrome: How to Avoid an Incorrect Diagnosis.” Accessed April 21, 2017. http://www.everydayhealth.com/colitis/webcasts/irritable-bowel-syndrome-how-to-avoid-an-incorrect-diagnosis.aspx
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. “Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” Accessed May 28, 2017. https://www.iffgd.org/lower-gi-disorders/irritable-bowel-syndrome.html
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. “Diagnosis of IBS.” Accessed May 28, 2017. http://www.aboutibs.org/signs-and-symptoms-main/diagnosis-of-ibs-2.html
Hannaway, Patrick J., MD. “Integrative Medicine,” Chapter 40, pp. 392-399.